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Wed, Feb 10, 2010

Southwest Facing Another Safety Probe

Third FAA Investigation Of The Airline In Two Years

The FAA has launched an investigation into possible violations of safety directives by Southwest Airlines, the third time the agency had looked into the carrier's safety practices in two years.

The investigation is a repeat of the probe two years ago that again looks at how the airline complies with FAA directives that keep older airplanes safe. It also has similarities to last years' case in which Southwest used unapproved parts on 82 airplanes.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Southwest could face tens of millions of dollars in fines because more than 100,000 flights have been conducted using 44 airplanes that may be out of compliance. FAA inspectors are looking into allegations that Southwest and a Seattle-area repair station did not conform to federally approved procedures when making fuselage repairs.

The FAA said it could not offer details about an ongoing investigation. Southwest spokesperson Beth Harbin said "All of our maintenance operations promote aviation safety by working in coordination with the FAA, equipment manufacturers and aircraft maintenance organizations in every effort to ensure that our fleet is maintained in accordance with applicable regulations and is aligned with best practice in the industry."

The case will focus on work performed by Aviation Technical Services in Everett, WA. The company was contracted to replace skin panels in order to satisfy safety directives requiring repeated inspections that stemmed from cracks in the skins of some older B737's. The company said it could not perform the work as mandated, and suggested its own solution to the problem. The FAA says Southwest approved those changes without seeking federal approval. Under federal regulations, the airline is legally responsible for flying aircraft which are determined not to be airworthy even if repair and inspection work is contracted to another company.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.southwest.com

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